Monday, June 21, 2021

Ukraine sacks health minister over poor handling of Covid-19 crisis

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The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday sacked health minister Maksym Stepanov after he was heavily criticised for his poor handling of the coronavirus crisis.

One of the poorest countries in Europe with an ageing healthcare system, Ukraine was hard-hit by the pandemic and is slow in its vaccine roll-out.

Some 292 lawmakers, with 226 required, voted for the dismissal of Stepanov who was appointed health minister in March 2020.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, who initiated Stepanov’s sacking, told the parliament that Stepanov was responsible for the “unsatisfactory pace of vaccination” against Covid-19 and failures in vaccine procurement.

Since the start of the pandemic the country of 40 million has recorded more than 2.1 million infections and over 48,000 deaths.

Ukraine launched its vaccination campaign in February, later than most European countries, and so far fewer than 950,000 people received a first dose.

“Yes, all is not ideal, far from ideal”, Stepanov told lawmakers ahead of the vote, accusing vaccine producers and suppliers for the delays.

Producers first dealt with demand in their own countries “before making deliveries abroad,” he said in his defence.

Stepanov has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic while opposition politicians and activists have said systemic corruption was behind the poor government response.

Critics accused him of engaging a Ukrainian intermediary firm to buy a Chinese-made vaccine, saying it would have been cheaper to buy doses directly.

Several charities also denounced the shortage of medical oxygen for patients in serious condition, accusing the government of failing to prepare the country for the second wave of the pandemic in autumn 2020.

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